Rangoon fails to snuff out protests

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The Independent Online
Rangoon - Burmese police chased students through the streets here yesterday as the military government closed universities after the largest demonstration of civil unrest since 1988. Military intelligence accused the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi of inciting the unrest and confined her to her home. "This is absolutely ridiculous," she said by telephone. "They (the government) are never prepared to accept their responsibilities. This conspiracy theory is totally out of date."

After a march and sit-in on Friday, police sealed roads to all three campuses of Rangoon University, while riot policeblockaded Rangoon Institute of Technology. But a demonstration erupted in front of one of the campuses and at midday students marched towards the US embassy in central Rangoon, holding portraits of Aung San, the independence leader and father of Ms Suu Kyi.

Riot police blocked the marchers' route and professors appealed to the protesters, who had sat in the road, to turn back. When the students rose and again walked towards the embassy the police marched at them and the students fled. As the police pursued, the students stoned them. About 10 troop carriers with 30 to 40 soldiers aboard joined the chase.

The authorities had hoped that closing the universities would choke protests following a melee between police and 1,500 students armed with sticks and stones on Saturday morning. The police were breaking up a sit-in demanding an end to police brutality, the right to form a student union, freedom and respect for human rights.

The confrontation was the strongest show of civil dissent since 1988, when a teashop brawl between Rangoon Institute of Technology students and the son of an official set off an uprising which was crushed by the military. More than 3,000 protesters were shot, thousands were jailed and all universities and high schools were closed for three years.